I spent this Saturday with Ed Jaworowski. He was conducting a casting clinic at a local fly fishing club. He had a lot to say; and it made a lot of sense. I ended up with what I think is a better understanding of the casting stroke and I came away with some pretty significant changes in the way that I cast. Below are some of the key points that he made during the clinic.
1. Slack has to be eliminated during the casting stroke
2. The stroke itself needs to accelerate to a crisp stop; on both the back cast and the forward cast
3. To get greater distance in a cast, lengthen your casting stroke.
4. Be mindful of the trajectory of the cast; the line will go in the direction that the rod tip is pointing at the end of your casting stroke.
Ed's casting style is totally fluid. It also has very few "must do's"; the first two points above being the primary ones that do need to happen. His approach is "minimalistic"; he asked several times during the clinic: what's the least amount of effort that I need to use in order to get the cast to go where I want it to?
The above 4 points actually all relate to loading the rod. I've had several people tell me that a properly loaded rod doesn't need any muscle behind it; it already has all of the power that it needs to get your cast to go where you want it to go. He made it clear at several points during the day that the loading of the rod on the backcast has nothing to do with the loading of the rod on the forward cast; they're two separate events. Although I could quibble with this point on an nth degree basis, over the course of the day I became a convert to its the central premise.
Starting with the pick-up off the water, the backcast loads the rod because you're moving the rod against the resistance of the line in the water. This starts bending the rod. Your acceleration on the backcast is quicker than the line can keep up with; the net result is that the rod bends more. At the abrupt stop at the end of your backcast; the rod does what it wants to do - it straightens out and shoots the line back behind you. Now you have the momentum of the line traveling behind you acting in the same way that the resistance of the line on the water did when you initiated the pick-up. This starts to bend the rod in the opposite direction for the forward cast. And before the line reaches its full length, you're accelerating it with your forward cast; which bends the rod more. When you come to the abrupt stop at the end of your forward cast, your rod unloads and shoots the line forward.
Simply put; a bent rod is loaded, it's storing energy that will be released on either the backcast or the forward cast. A straight rod is unloaded, it can't make a line go anywhere at all.
This may be a good time to mention the double haul. It's another way to load the rod. Let's go back to the pick-up. When the rod is being accelerated on the backcast it's bending; being loaded. If we now add a haul on the backcast, then we're overtly shortening the line, but what we're really doing is adding to the resistance in the rod/line system and since, as we said above, the line can't keep up with the speed of our backcast, when you haul, you're making the line move even faster, causing the rod to bend more; you're putting additional loading into the rod. If you do the same thing on the forward cast, then the effect is the same; more bend in the rod and more loading in the rod blank.
Ed hauls on every cast; even 10-15' casts. His premise is that if the movement on the haul "mirrors" the movement of the cast stroke (except it's moving in the opposite direction - for right handers, when the rod is being accelerated backwards for the backcast with the right hand, the left hand is accelerating downwards with the same acceleration). According to Ed, both hands do approximately 50% of the work in loading the rod. So, if you're hauling properly, you can get by with about 50% of the casting stroke acceleration that you'd need if you weren't hauling.
That's it for loading.
Slack - slack needs to be eliminated from both the backcast and the forward cast. Understanding the concept above about rod loading, it's easy to see that any slack in the system is going to have to be taken out before the rod will load. So, if you have to use 50% of your backcast to take the slack out of your line on the water, then you only have 50% of our stroke left to load the rod. Similarly, if you let your backcast fully extend behind you before starting your forward cast, then the line will sag and that will cause slack that will have to be taken our on the forward cast; which means that you'll have less of your forward cast to load the rod. So, on the pick-up, get the slack out of the line before you start your backcast and on the forward cast, start your forward cast while the line is still unfurling on the backcast; when it look like a horizontal candy cane.
Acceleration - in order to load the rod to its maximum, you have to continuously increase the acceleation on your backcast and your forward cast; until you come to an abrupt stop. This is, I think, the key to being able to load the rod properly. And for me, it's counter-intuitive. I like to start my casting stroke with a crisp acceleration and then let it move back, more or less, at it's own pace. But, in doing this, it became clear to me on Saturday, that I was actually unloading the rod on my casting stroke; not maximizing the loading. So, I changed gears; which took about 3 hours. And - it worked. Keep your rod accelerating throughout your stroke. It needs to be travelling at its maximum speed just when you stop the cast motion. This puts the maximum load into the rod. Anything else doesn't.
By the way, the abrupt stop is the key to a tight loop.
Stroke - there's nothing sacred according to Ed about 10 o'clock / 1 o'clock in the casting stroke. In fact, if you buy into the rod loading principles above, it's hard to imagine how you can get a rod properly loaded for a long cast if you're only accelerating it through the narrow arc defined by 10 o'clock / 1 o'clock. The answer, since many people can throw a lot of line with this "classical" casting stroke, has to be that they are meticulous about making sure that they have absolutely no slack in their casting stroke and that they're continually accelerating the rod througout that small arc.
But, provided that you're accelerating the rod throughout the casting stroke and that you bring the stroke to a sharp, abrupt stop, then you can lengthen your casting stroke considerably beyond 10 o'clock / 1 o'clock. In fact, many of the casts that Ed was making; and making them effortlessly, were really between 10 o'clock and 3 o'clock (that's right - the rod was almost horizontal to the ground at the end of the backcast). But think about the length of your casting stroke if you start your forward cast from the 3 o'clock position. It works. I did it 1,000 times on Saturday to get it drilled into my casting stroke and I just plain works.
Trajectory - this seems obvious, but the line on both the backcast and the forward cast will travel in the direction that the rod tip is pointed at the end of the casting stroke. So, bringing your forward cast down below 9 o'clock (so that it's pointed at the water) will mean that your line will go into the water; instead of shooting out for a much greater distance.
During the day, Ed showed us several things that can be done with a cast; things that most books will tell you can't be done. For example, it is possible to turn a cast 90 degrees or more on either the backcast or the forward cast. I didn't believe that. I thought that you needed to change directions slowly with several false casts. Now I know that you don't need to do that. You just need to keep the rod loaded and point the tip where you want the line to go. It will go there; all by itself.
Those are the main points that I got our of yesterday's clinic with Ed. His casting style may not work for everyone, but it made a lot of sense to me and it dispelled some old axioms that I've heard for several years and that I have never really been able to understand.
It was well worth the time for me. Perhaps there's something here for some of you, too.
Ed's comment about the least amount of effort to get the line where it
needs to be is something that I've paid great attention to for the past year.
That's where the Zen of casting is for me......
Two of the examples that Ed gave on how much effort to use for a given cast were in the form of references to other sports (parenthetically, one of the things that I liked about Ed was his ability to analogize to other sports situations, because in doing that he was hitting on topics that were familiar to me and to the others in the class; things that provided us with a mental "bridge" back to the fly cast).
The two analogies were to baseball and golf.
For baseball, after dispelling the 10 o'clock / 1 o'clock myth, he asked a simple question. If you were playing centerfield and you'd just fielded a grounder, the lead runner was rounding 3rd base, you knew that the play was at home plate and you had to get the ball there as quickly as you could, would you throw that ball from the 1 o'clock position to the 10 o'clock position? We all said "no", we'd wind up as much as we could and throw as hard as we could. "Right", he said. And where would you start your throw from? Most of reached behind ourselves and looked at our arms. They were either at the 3 o'clock position or below that at the 4 o'clock position. He smiled and said - "why not try that when you want to cast long? Just lengthen your stroke." He them casually demonstrated another 100+' cast; starting at the 3 o'clock position and moving forward to the 10 o'clock position. Effortlessly.
For golf, he asked if we wanted to hit a drive 250 yards would we start our swing at the 9 o'clock position, or would we wind up completely and have the club head at about 3 o'clock before we started our foreswing. We all said that we'd be as far up and back as we could get comfortably. Then he asked "what would you do next?" We all said that we'd accelerate the clubhead towards to ball with the intent to smack the ball with the maximum force that we could muster. He agreed and said that the follow through from the time that we hit the ball until we stopped our swing with the clubhead at about 9 o'clock was simply due to the momentum of the clubhead itself. But, the clubhead would never be going any faster througout the stroke then it was at the point where it impacted the ball. I think that's true. So, here was another example of continuous acceleration with a sudden stop - just like in the fly cast.
Returning to baseball, the same is true for hitting the ball while standing at home plate. Moving to tennis - same analogy; maximum acceleration just before you hit the ball. Hockey - same analogy; just before you slap the puck.
The exciting part of this is that it work. The more that you accelerate your rod and come to an abrupt stop, the better your cast; backcast or forward cast. And, as I mentioned in my last post, the more abrupt the stop, the tighter the loop.
Here's another helpful hint. If you get sine waves in your foward cast, it's because you started your forward cast with a jerk; while there was still slack in the line from the backcast. That slack causes the rod tip to vibrate as it's literally yanked back when the slack comes out of the line. And that vibration give you the sine waves in your foward cast. Remember, the line goes in the direction that the rod tip is pointed in. If the rod tip is vibrating, then so is the line and that's where the sine waves come from. Want to get rid of the waves? Try making your forward cast before the line has fully unfurled on the backcast. No slack in the line - no sine waves in the forward cast.
Here's another one. Tailing loops. Tailing loops come from moving your hand forward without rotating the rod tip; sort of a push motion with your rod hand. That push motion; without rotating the rod tip forward, creates slack which causes the line to fall a little towards the ground. When you rotate the rod at the end of your cast, the end of the fly line is already below your rod tip. And there's your tailing loop. Many people will say that pushing down with your thumb at the end of the casting stroke will cure tailing loops. Ed agreed with that, but said that all that's doing is rotating the rod tip when it's already low at the end of the forward cast. But he followed that by asking, "why not rotate the rod throughout the cast and not have to worry about tailing loops?" The key really is not to push the rod foward without at the same time rotating the rod tip. The tip of the rod needs to be moving faster than the butt. It's that simple. If it's not, then you're introducing slack into the casting stroke and all kinds of unwanted things happen when you do that. Tailing loops are just one of them.
One more. I forgot this one when I was posting last night. The roll cast.
Most of us have been taught that you use a roll cast when there's not enough clear air behind you to make a good backcast (trees, rocks, some form of obstruction in the way). Mechanically we're generally taught to bring the rod tip back behind ourselves to about the 2 o'clock position; with some belly in the line and enough line still on the water to provide resistance against which we can load our rod and launch our forward cast. We're then told to make a normal forward cast ending with the rod tip pointed in a down position.
But a lot of times, what happens is that you end up with a roll cast that has a puddle of line at the end of it; not a line that's straight out to where you want to cast.
That comes, primarily, from having the rod tip pointed down; down at the water. One of the things that Ed drilled into us was the fact that the line will go where the rod tip is pointed. So, if it's pointed down into the water, then the line will go there; down into the water; not out where you want it to go.
There are several solutions to this situation. First, be sure that there isn't any slack in the line when you start your forward roll cast. If there is, then part of your casting stroke is going to be wasted taking the slack out of the line. And a roll cast is, generally a 2 o'clock / 10 o'clock motion; so you don't have a lot of time or motion to correct your casting mistakes; it's a very short stroke. Also be sure that there's enough line on the water to provide resistance; which is the key to loading the rod on the forward cast. Remember, what you're doing with a roll cast is making a forward cast without making a backcast. Since, the backcast gets the line out behind you and since this loads the rod when you begin your forward cast, you need to come close to duplicating the resistance that the line behind you provides on a backcast; but instead your doing it using the line contact with the water in front of you. Since water grabs line a lot tighter than air, you can get a lot of resistance from a short strecth of line that lying on the water. Second, don't rush the casting stroke; remember to start slow and accelerate to an abrupt stop. If you rush the stroke, you'll yank the line off the water, loose your resistance load and have nothing to load the rod against on the forward cast. Third, don't finish your roll cast stroke with the line pointed down towards the water; finish it with the rod tip pointed where you want it to go; out towards your casting target. This last point made all the difference for me in getting longer and more accurate roll casts.
Ed also had some things to say about spey casting. The thing that caught my attention most was his statement that spey casting is really another variation of roll casting; simply with a greater ability to load the rod due to the compound motion of the forward cast. With a greater load placed on the rod, you can cast greater distances more easily.